There are two million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails, which represent a disproportionate amount of people who have current or past mental health problems. Read more about this important topic, which will be presented at Psych Congress 2023.
Mental health and the criminal justice system are intertwined and come at huge fiscal, health, and human costs. Here are some statistics that show a growing number of both juveniles and adults with mental health and substance abuse disorders.
- Two million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons (37 percent) and jails (44 percent) represent a disproportionate amount of people who have current or past mental health problems.
- Incarcerated women are twice as likely to have a history of mental illness (66 percent).
- Seventy percent of juvenile offenders have a diagnosable mental health condition.
Challenges and Solutions
Our current system of criminal justice inadequately addresses the complexity of cases involving criminal defendants with mental health conditions, which are further compounded by overcrowding, implicit biases, limited training, and education for correction personnel on managing such individuals and a lack of infrastructure and access to comprehensive care. This all culminates in poor outcomes for individuals and society. Also, reentry with mental and/or behavioral illness complicates an already difficult path for offenders to integrate as productive members of society.
Those incarcerated are not only the ones in need. Law enforcement personnel like prison guards, wardens, and corrections officers also need special knowledge and skills to address complex situations in prisons and jails. This will require a change in not only mindset towards cultural humility but institutional support and resources to do so effectively.
Advancing culturally humble approaches in the justice system to promote safety and equity can occur in many forms, like advocacy and engagement with community-based programs, but also, increase mental and behavioral health education and training. Efforts that show promise include:
- Awareness initiatives on understanding mental and behavioral health conditions
- De-escalation techniques
- Diversion program support
- Compassionate care strategies
- Trauma-informed practices
- Support for treatment and management of mental and behavioral health in prisons and jails
The Department of Justice has called for a whole-of-government approach to enhancing trust, rooting out disparities, and advancing the “principles of rehabilitation, reentry, and reaffirming trust.” There is a growing recognition of the need to address mental and behavioral health in the criminal justice system. More efforts with demonstrated individual and societal effects are underway but many more are needed to ensure effective and humane practices to improve health and societal outcomes.
Ghiasi, Noman, Yusra Azhar, and Jasbir Singh. 2023. “Psychiatric Illness and Criminality.” StatPearls, March.
Mental Health and Criminal Justice Issues. n.d. Mental Health America. Accessed August 22, 2023. https://www.mhanational.org/issues/mental-health-and-criminal-justice-issues.
Mental Illness And The Criminal Justice System. 2023. April 2023. https://nami.org/mhstats.
Rehabilitation, Reentry, and Reaffirming Trust The Department of Justice Strategic Plan Pursuant to Section 15(f) of Executive Order 14074. 2023. U.S. Department of Justice.